Paul and Ed's Excellent Adventure
World-famous environmental photographer Edward Burtynsky and IDEAS host Paul Kennedy both grew up in St. Catharines, Ontario. In fact, their childhood homes were less than 300 metres apart, and young paperboy Paul delivered a daily dose of newspaper comic strips to future visual artist Ed.
Paul and Ed lived parallel lives close to — but separate from — each other. When they eventually met in 2008, they talked about one day doing an episode of IDEAS, in which they'd return home to revisit their shared roots. Well, they did it: welcome to Paul and Ed's Excellent Adventure. The two made plans to visit the old GM plant on Ontario Street where both of their fathers had worked. The plant was bought by General Motors in 1929 to manufacture cars after World War I and was the largest employer in St. Catharines until its closure in 2010.
While they were growing up, St. Catharines was a working class city. Both boys came from blue collar families, but Paul and Ed had very different childhoods. Ed's parents were Ukrainian refugees, and his upbringing was linguistically and culturally distinct from Paul's. Their disparate childhoods were connected by the GM plant, where their fathers worked at separate ends of the factory. Paul's father was a toolmaker and Ed's worked in the foundry, where he was exposed to toxic PCBs. He died when Ed was just 15 years old.
By the time Paul and Ed got together for this episode, the plant had been bought by developers and demolished. Images of the GM plant heavily influenced Burtynsky in the early stages of his career. Rubble and debris are now scattered throughout the area, leaving mere traces of what was once the epicentre of the St. Catharines economy. These traces of industry are reminiscent of Burtynsky's work documenting the anthropocene era, and the damaging impact that humans have had on the planet.
Paul and Ed return to their hometown and explore the remains of the former GM plant with the city's mayor, Walter Sendzik. They also visit the new subdivision that recently replaced Meadowvale School, where they both started kindergarten so many decades ago. There is something special about St. Catharines for both of them. There is something about hometowns. There is something about leaving and coming back to a place that has changed so drastically while also holding such familiarity and influence.
Edward Burtynsky is a world-renowned Canadian photographer whose photographs of industrial landscapes have been included in over sixty major museums around the world. He is the co-director on a 2018 film called Anthropocene: The Human Epoch, which aims to recognize the impact of human activity on the planet and as a driving force behind environmental change.
Web Extra | Watch the trailer for Anthropocene: The Human Epoch
**This episode was produced by Paul Kennedy.